This week AdventureMan and I have been blessed, greatly blessed. We have met some wonderful people and heard some amazing things. Two stories in particular have shaken the earth for me.
“How It Happened for Me”
The first story is about a friend we met from the newest country on earth, South Sudan. A group of us were sitting together when one woman turned to this man from the South Sudan and asked “How did you find Jesus?”
This was not a religious gathering, so it is an unusual question on a social evening. But this quiet, modest man responded “I will tell you. It is a long story. It starts when I was only five months, not a baby, five months in my mother’s womb.”
He told us of a life with no security. His parents and family fled to the forest, and were on the run continually most of his life – until recently. He told of a life trying to find safe places, sometimes being separated from his parents.
He told of a priest who, when he and his brothers and sisters were very young, taught them to say “God bless Mother and God bless Father and God bless my brothers and sisters and watch over us always.” He was kind to the children, and taught them that God loves them, that God is kind. He said they did not know who this God was, but he and his brothers and sisters said this prayer every night, to keep his family safe. He said they learned other simple prayers. There would be rare times when someone would teach them a letter, or some numbers, drawing in the sand, or the floor of the forest, simple, quick lessons.
“So I don’t know all the stories you do,” he said. “I don’t even know the bible very well, we never had educated priests, just simple men who taught us simple prayers. Only later did we become more educated.”
As we listened, we had huge lumps in our throats. I could hear Jesus’ voice saying that we must believe as little children, and this man had the pure simple faith of a child, a memory from his earliest years, as he prayed for his family to be safe in a world where life was continual chaos and a struggle to survive.
“When I understood about God,” he went on, “there wasn’t even a church or a pastor-man who could baptize me; I had to believe for many years before I could become a Christian.”
As a footnote, he told us that somehow, most of his village managed to survive, helping one another. His entire family made it through, his parents are still alive. The village children little by little gained education, becoming doctors, lawyers, professionals of all kinds. His village now has a church, a simple church, not always staffed, but a church. The war is ended. For him, the simplicity of peace is all he ever wanted.
We will never forget his, and his story. We have met an extraordinary human being.
Today, we went to a lunch, invited by a friend, to raise funds for public education. LOL, this is what I used to do; I worked for an education foundation and raised money for public education. I love this kind of thing. I knew just what to expect – lots of success stories, stellar achievements, and a gentle pitch.
Whoa! Wrong! Darling kids – check. Recognition of important guests – check. Gentle pitch – no way! They got right to business; you will see this form, please take your pens RIGHT NOW and fill it out and give what you can, education funds seem to get cut more every year and we are trying to do more with less and less. Give NOW. CHECK!
The final speaker was a local businessman and patron-of-just-about-everything, a man who also brought baseball to Pensacola. He talked about his own public education. He talked about his speech impediment, and his deafness, he talked about his short stature and his inability to sit still and concentrate. He talked about teachers who identified him and instead of treating him as an obstacle, made him believe they were glad to have him in their class. He talked about teachers who gave him special assignments, who taught him math by having him calculate baseball averages. He knew their names, these saints who kept him in school, no matter how discouraged he might be.
He graduated with a 1.9 grade point, and had no intention of going to college, but ended up astonishing everyone by doing well on the ACT test and having a guidance counselor who found him just exactly the right environment where he could flourish on the college level.
Important people usually enjoy telling you the great things they have done. This man focused on his disabilities, his humiliations and his weaknesses, and how the kindness of educators had pulled him out of a very dark place and set him on the road for the success he is today.
I am willing to bet that the education foundation gained a lot of donors today. We were caught by surprise. We can defend against the powerful and successful, but when the heart speaks from vulnerability and failure, our hearts respond. This man is a success, but he gives credit to those who looked at him with caring eyes, with caring hearts, who lifted him and helped him on his way to the incredible (wealthy) success he is today, with a flourishing business and innumerable local charities who are grateful for his support.
What a week! And it’s only Tuesday! I wonder what the rest of the week will bring?
I found this today on NPR News and it delights me for a number of reasons. For one thing, I didn’t know David Eggars (you remember him from Zeitoun) had helped with the writing of ‘What Is The What?’. Second, who knew that any of these kids would survive? Survive, write a book, thrive, go back to the Sudan, give to the country – and vote. Every now and then in this sad world you hear a good story. This is one.
January 10, 2011
During Sudan’s civil war, in which some 2 million people died, Valentino Achak Deng fled to Ethiopia on foot. Separated from his family for 17 years, Deng is one of Sudan’s so-called Lost Boys, children who were orphaned or separated from their families during the brutal war.
Now, voting is under way in Southern Sudan in a referendum that is expected to split Africa’s largest country. Among those voting this week are the Lost Boys, including Deng, whose life became a best-selling novel in America and who has returned to his homeland to build a school.
After a peace agreement between north and south, Deng returned to Juba, the capital of Southern Sudan, in 2006. He says when he got there, the place was still a wreck.
“On some of these roads, you could see old war tanks. On some of these roads, in some neighborhoods you could see the bones and skulls of dead people,” he recalls now, driving around Juba.
Now, as Southern Sudan appears headed for independence, Deng is optimistic — and Juba looks a lot better. Paved roads, now lined with hotels and restaurants, arrived for the first time in 2007.
Juba is a booming city, one of incredible contrast: Barefoot women selling piles of gravel by the side of the road sit next to a Toyota dealership.
Peace is spurring investment and consumer demand. Juba’s growth is driven by Southern Sudan’s oil revenue as well aid from foreign governments and nongovernmental organizations.
Deng grew up in a tiny village called Marial Bai. In the 1980s, northern bombers and Arab militias came.
“They bombed Marial Bai, destroyed it, killed everything, burned crops and livestock,” he says.
Deng was there when the fighting came. He says he “ran away with the rest.” He was 9 years old.
Deng joined thousands of Lost Boys, who spent months trekking across Sudan to refugee camps in Ethiopia. His experience is captured in What Is the What, a novel by Dave Eggers, which reads like a modern-day story of Job.
The boys, some naked, march across an unforgiving landscape, facing Arab horsemen, bombing raids, lions and crocodiles.
Deng eventually resettled in the U.S., where he attended college and was mentored and sponsored by ordinary Americans.
In 2007, he returned to start a high school in Marial Bai, where there was none.
“We have 250 students. Our annual budget now stands at about $200,000 because the school is free,” he says.
The school is funded by Deng’s private foundation. He says most donations come from Americans touched by his story and the plight of Southern Sudan.
Deng, now 32, has just cast his vote for independence. He says that for a Sudanese child of war, his life’s journey is almost inconceivable.
“I never imagined I would be the person I am right now,” he says.
From today’s Arab Times:
Kuwait Red Crescent ready to fill aid agencies gap in Darfur
KUWAIT CITY, March 7, (KUNA): Kuwait Red Crescent Society (KRCS) said Saturday it was ready to fill the aid agencies gap caused by the withdrawal of a number of humanitarian organizations from Darfur.
KRCS Chairman Barjas Al-Barjas said in a letter he sent to Secretary-General of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) Bekele Geleta, that KRCS believed the federation should cover the needs caused by the withdrawal of 16 non-governmental organizations from Darfur due to bad security conditions. He called IFRC to urge all humanitarian and charitable bodies, national societies, and the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) to contribute to ending the deterioration of the humanitarian situation in Darfur. Al-Barjas said KRCS was ready to provide aid, as it always did to the needy around the world.
Meanwhile, the Arab League Council has decided to send an Arab-Afro delegation to the UN Security Council (UNSC) to defer the International Criminal Court’s (ICC) arrest warrant against Sudanese President Omar Al-Bashir. The council, meeting urgently at the foreign ministers’ level to discuss ICC arrest warrant, expressed dismay for the ICC decision and said it did not consider justice, stability and peace in Sudan. The council voiced solidarity with Sudan against any plans undermining the sovereignty, unity and independence of Sudan.
The foreign ministers underlined in a statement importance of the independence of the Sudanese judiciary. They refused any attempt to politicize the principles of the international justice which would jeopardize the unity, sovereignty and independence of countries around the world. They regretted the fact that article 16 of the Rome statute of the ICC was not provoked thus delay the arrest warrant for 12 months. They asserted that heads of state enjoy immunity in accordance with the 1961 Vienna agreement.
The arrest warrant does not consider the implementation of the peace agreement in Southern Sudan and preparation for the general elections in the second half of this year, said the ministers. The Arab foreign ministers urged the UN Security Council (UNSC) to live up its responsibility to preserving peace and stability in Sudan. They called on regional and international parties to provide suitable atmosphere for the political settlement between the Sudanese government and rebel groups in Darfur.
May God bless the work of their hands and their hearts.
“Khalid”, a member of the Janjaweed tells about the Sudanese scorched earth policy in today’s BBC News:
The International Criminal Court is set to announce whether or not it is to issue a warrant for the arrest of the President of Sudan President al-Bashir, for alleged war crimes in Darfur.
The Sudanese government has always said the accusations are political but now one of the country’s former soldiers, who served in Darfur, has been telling his story to the BBC’s Mike Thomson.
Khalid (not his real name), a polite and softly spoken man from Darfur, seems reluctant to talk about his past. It is soon clear why.
“The orders given to us were to burn the villages completely,” he says.
“We even had to poison the water wells. We were also given orders to kill all the woman and rape girls under 13 and 14.”
Khalid, who is of black African origin, says he was forcibly recruited into President Omar al-Bashir’s Sudanese army in late 2002.
He and several other men where he lived were taken to the headquarters of his regiment which was based near the north-western Darfur town of Fasher.
He admits to having taken part in seven different attacks on Darfur villages with the help of Janjaweed militia.
The first one was in the Korma area in December 2002 several months before the conflict in Darfur officially began.
He claims to have been extremely reluctant to carry out the savage orders he was given.
“When they asked me to rape the girl, I went and stood in front of her,” he said.
“Tears came into my eyes. They said: ‘You have to rape her. If you don’t we will beat you.’ I hesitated and they hit me with the butt of a rifle.
“But when I went to the girl I couldn’t do it. I took her into a corner and lay myself on top of her as if I was raping her for about 10 to 15 minutes.
“Then, I jumped up and came out. They said: ‘Did you rape her?’ I said: ‘Yes, I did’.”
Khalid says that soon after this he and the other soldiers went back to base.
When they got there he was told to join another patrol immediately.
When he refused they beat and tortured him, inflicting severe burns on his legs and back.
He spent five weeks in a military hospital recovering from his injuries.
Before long, he said, he was ordered to join other brutal raids on Darfur villages.
I asked him what he was told to do with unarmed civilians who did not resist in any way.
“They told us, don’t leave anybody, just kill everybody,” he said.
“Even the children, if left behind in the huts, we had to kill them,” he said. “People would cry and run from their huts.
“Many couldn’t take their all their children. If they had more than two they had to leave them behind. If you saw them you had to shoot and kill.”
Khalid insists that he always fired over the heads of civilians and didn’t kill anyone himself despite the orders he was given.
He says he could do this without his fellow soldiers noticing but he admits that there was no way he could avoid carrying out orders to torch peoples homes.
The six-year conflict has spawned more than two million refugees
“I did take part,” he admitted. “They forced me. We had no choice. If you didn’t they would kill you.”
Did anyone refuse?
“Two of my colleagues refused and they were shot dead.”
You can read the entire article by clicking BBC NEWS: Dharfur
In our Lectionary readings for today we pray for the Innocents, slaughtered by King Herod, in the land that is now Israel.
PRAYER (traditional language)
We remember this day, O God, the slaughter of the holy innocents of Bethlehem by the order of King Herod. Receive, we beseech thee, into the arms of thy mercy all innocent victims; and by thy great might frustrate the designs of evil tyrants and establish thy rule of justice, love, and peace; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.
There is nothing so maddening as to be helpless to intervene in the huge crush of political events among nations. On the other hand, we have been given this very powerful weapon – prayer – and the knowledge that God can do anything, and that he listens to our prayers, especially prayers for the weak, the helpless, women and children.
We can also raise our voices where it counts – to our governments – to say “this is wrong” and “this must be stopped.”
This is wrong. This must be stopped.
It is neither good nor right for bullies to impose their will on those with less power, just because they can. (That applies also to my own country.) It is not good for the victims – but it is also not good for the health of the bully! Countries where minority rights are not considered find themselves weakened from internal disorders, like a body eaten with cancer. If minorities can be likened to bacteria – a little bacterial makes us healthier and stronger. Tolerance of diversity makes us as nations healthier and stronger.
Don’t you wonder what might be accomplished if the Palestinians and Israelis could find some way to live together in peace?
New high resolution:
Whistler, BC; Waterloo & Toronto, Ontario; Nanaimo, BC; and Fort Saskatchewan, AB
England: Base 50cm coverage of nearly entire country, and Avon
Germany: Cities/Regions of Greifswald, Trier, Köln, Stuttgart, Bonn, Oldenburg, Rostock, Saarbrücken, Hamburg, Hannover, and Ritterhude
Austria: Villach region
France: Cities of Caen, Dijon, Metz, St Etienne, Toulouse and Rouen
Spain: Valencia Andorra
US: Imperial County (CA); Yellowstone National Park (WY); Galveston/Houston (TX); Peterborough (NH); Cheyenne (WY); Burke, Wake, and Cabarrus Counties (NC); Racine and Kenosha Counties (WI); Washington, DC; St Paul (MN); and the State of Alabama
Japan: City/Regions of Kochi, Asahikawa, Koriyama, Miyazaki, Nagano, Utsunomiya, Akita, and Toyama
Large Digital Globe (60cm) update includes areas in Sudan, expanded Africa, Australia, Mexico coverage and smaller areas of coverage in Asia, Polynesia, South America, Canada, Europe, Middle East plus some interesting islands in Antarctica and Greenland.
Bogotá, Columbia; Mission Viejo (CA, US); Hillsborough County (FL, US)
EU: Dublin, Ireland
Middle East/Africa: Beirut, Lebanon and Tripoli, Libya
Asia: Hong Kong and Manila, Philippine
Western US 10m, Canary Islands 10m